Tag Archives: weekly writing tips

The Pop-Up Writing Space

We most likely have, each of us, a dedicated writing office space of one kind or another. Here, seated or standing at our own desk, we often feel primed to begin. It’s almost like having a head start on the work. I hear some of us saying, as I have from time to time, I can only write when I’m alone in my office.

Still, charm of setting and pursuing a noble goal are not enough for storytelling, nor are they always enough for the writers who devise them. Just as the stories we’re writing demand transformation to hold a reader’s attention, our writers’ minds desire change to keep sharp.

Libraries.  Coffee shops.  Different areas in our homes.  If we consider devising pop-up writing spaces, should silence be a prerequisite?  Those of us who admire Jane Austen’s work know we’d be missing much had she required quiet.

A pop-up office won’t be as fab as our own perfectly — or madly — arranged private offices.  Especially office spaces we love with all our hearts.  But, even pleasures may fail to please when we settle into a favourite rut.  Our brains are our most important writing tools, and they thrive on change as much as comfort.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

You keep the goals for your writing career in plain view. A perfect guide for your continued success. Your Writing Muse

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Your Opening Image and Page One

small-camera As in the movies, the ideal opening image for novels and short fiction will be resonant and unique.  Or, as a perspicacious agent once said to me, “Why the bleep are you opening your story with a bunch of characters drinking beer in a pub?”

Take a look, for example, at the opening image of the 2007 film Once. The first scene nails time (night) place (empty city street — thus, an opposition, Dublin) the promise of genre (musical) and a hint at the central conflict, (a kind, talented man playing music in pain to an empty street, who clearly needs to get together with somebody).  The title letters come together, and we have the advent of the girl who likes his music.

There are plenty of books out there that nail time, place, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.  Of course, rules are meant to be broken — I’ve seen award-winners that begin with a two-page inner-voice rant. However, it’s a real pleasure to see instances where the five are nailed in the opening sentence, as in George Orwell’s 1984:  “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

I suggest brainstorming 15-20 ways a story might begin.  And, because it’s a great help to us all, I must mention the biggest aid to writing an opening scene:  the closing scene. Whether the first seeds the second, or we’ve got a circular tale on our hands, the fabulous end to a tale is our best help to writing a brilliant and engaging beginning.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing day.

Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseThere are no unimportant characters in your tale. Brilliant storytelling. From your Writing Muse

One Aspect of Pace in Storytelling: The Morian Pause

manwithhorsesmallSometimes we writers sense, despite careful plotting, that not enough is happening, when really what’s wanted is a pause.  Best selling Sci-fi author Kathy Tyers calls these pauses moments of beauty.  Here readers receive a valuable gift from the narrative: a little time to appreciate all that excellent work in character development.

Think of Tolkein’s Frodo, in the mines of Moria, resting in a moment of relative safety.  He has a chance to look around him at this terrible, beautiful world, and we’re privileged to hear him talk with Gandalf as in the old times back in the Shire.  Character development here is superbly satisfying, as we get a chance to see how the hero has changed since the days when he loved to listen to Gandalf’s stories, now that he’s in one.  And, at the end of that moment, while we’re deep in the beauty of their interaction, Frodo and Gandalf give us the exchange that will resonate to the end of the tale.  “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”  “Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand.  Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.”

The beauty and calm of such a moment, contrasted with the struggle ahead, achieves a double poignancy.  First, we may wish with Frodo that we could stay here forever, and our sympathy and fear for the hero grow stronger because we’ve shared this very private wish for peace with him.  Then, as he rises to take on the dangers ahead, we are even more on the hero’s side.  Taking time to write moments of beauty makes readers smile, and creates exquisite pace.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing day. Cheers. Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou keep track of the way each turning point affects the subplots. Clever work. From your Writing Muse

Storytelling Power

swordEditorial revisions will almost certainly be necessary for every story,  but we’ll be wise to approach editorial, whether paid or unpaid, from a position of storytelling power.  Stories that are not tightly revised for narrative structure before they’re sent to editors risk such broad-stroke suggestions as “You have too many characters, take most of them out.”  Or, impossibly narrow editorial desires such as “Give me a beginning like the first ten pages of MacDonald’s Lillith.”  Editors work hard to keep sharp and insightful, but when a book’s structure is very loose and tangled, we’ll look for any loose end to pull.  Just trying to help.

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”― HG Wells

All readers, of all ages, want and expect a resonant, flawed hero with whom to identify; an authoritative start, incluing time, place, tone, setting, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict; exchanges of power and non-linear, original adventures; a teeter on the edge of real or metaphorical death; transformation; and a final face-off and a satisfying resolution.  If we can keep our solid narrative structure outlines to hand — I like to call this, doing previsions — rather than simply drafting what comes next, then we give editors solid storytelling to edit.  Our second-round revisions will be simpler, and our readers will want more of our work.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

Suprisingly gripping reads about editors: F Scott Berg’s ‘ Max Perkins, Man of Genius’ and James Thurber’s ‘The Years With Ross’

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseEach of your supporting characters forces the hero to learn and grow towards the final conflict. Kudos from your Writing Muse

Taking the Next Step in a Writing Career

Goals get us up in the morning.  Before we rise, before the business of the world we’ve created takes over our day, we can remember that our great desire is to publish a shelf-load of stories, or to be a best-selling science fiction writer, or to write a character that will live as truly as Sherlock Holmes does.  And then ask:

What’s the one thing I need to do next? 

It might be to

  • create a unique setting for the next scene
  • make a supporting character force the protagonist to do what he’d never do (character development: see Donald Maass’s guides to writing)
  • find a better way for a character to stumble and pivot
  • write out the elevator pitch
  • write a jacket blurb
  • list 20 options for a better title
  • plan an overview of the development of a trilogy
  • draft the final paragraph of the story, even though it’s hardly begun

Whatever it is, our inner writer will be crafting it in our busy day, while we make tea, find our other shoe, fold the laundry, drive to the day job.  And create the writing career we wish for, one step at a time, in the right direction.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseThe body of work you’re creating now provides a solid foundation for your career.  Congratulations on achieving so much, and on having such an amazing journey behind and ahead of you.  From your fan, your Writing Muse

Success, While You Wait

pledge-smallSometimes it may seem as though success is a very slow mover.

We know our book is good.  We shop it here and there, without seeing much enthusiasm from editors, agents, or indie ebook lists.  We know that all we need is somebody to believe in us, and we wonder just when we’re going to arrive on that desk, that indie best-seller list, that review blog.

But, here’s something to consider.  If we were to arrive right now, is there a cache of work to put out there to please a burgeoning following?  Maybe we have lots of awesome work close to ready, or ready, to go. But if not — or, even if so — we’ll do well to welcome this calm before the storm of success as a gift from the muses.

Here, in this serene space, where nobody is demanding revisions, proofs, or interviews, we have the relatively uninterrupted opportunity to use our learning and gifts to make sure we have a topnotch skillset and a superb shelf of work to sell.  Our future selves will be most thankful for all this work accomplished, and even more, that we always believed in our own success.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you. Cheers Mel.

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseThe middle section of your story teaches every writer what energy is all about in storytelling. All good wishes for your continuing success, from your Writing Muse.

Creating Writing Time

croppersherosmallWhen we’re designing our ideal writing lives within our everyday lives, it’s well to tailor them to our own rhythms, but it’s also worth challenging our scheduling habits.

Something that does not serve us has got to give, whether it’s TV or computer time, the Saturday grocery shopping trip (order online?) or the weekend cleaning blitz (a little every day, see flylady.net?)

And, if we can’t cut a single thing from our week to create more time, then we can and perhaps must say to ourselves There is a time for everything, and when I can, I will. My writer’s life will still be there when I’m ready.

Every writer’s experiences and needs are different, and we’ve all got particular dreams, talents and abilities that will push us, through planning and creating, ever more resolutely and effectively towards the writer’s life we desire.  We can begin immediately to eliminate time-wasters that don’t serve us, and infuse the time we create this way with creative thought.

Everybody who is doing anything that feels worthwhile knows that enjoying it means doing the actual work. And we know that joy in work comes with making the time to forever improve and evolve in our craft.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse small

From @yourwritingmuse:

Because you’ve crafted your hero’s growth through your story, your revision time is halved.  Kudos from your fan, your  Writing Muse

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Dark of Night Thoughts

sleeping woman small vertical copyFrom time to time a buzzing mosquito of a thought comes to us, perhaps in the middle of the night:  There are so many books out there already.  Authors are even giving them away free.  How can I possibly hope to compete?

We don’t need to compete.  Leave competition to the big publishers to tussle among themselves with numbers.  All we have to do is write excellent books and find a readership, for which there has never been a better time.  Then, whether we publish independently or through a publishing company, our own particular stories will appeal to our own particular readers.

We are all individuals, and if we write honestly, with passion, accomplished storytelling, and a drive to become our best writing selves, we will write good books.

I’m reminded of the stories of Hugh Howey, who published independently, and when his work turned out to be so good that it couldn’t be overlooked, a publisher picked him up. (He keeps his ebooks independent.) And Elena Ferrante, of the Naples Series, who keeps herself to herself and believes that so long as her books are good enough, they will find a readership.

And if, in the dark of night, the number of authors out here still appears daunting, I always think it’s a happy break for us writers that most of us are also voracious readers.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.

Cheers, Mel

muse small

From @yourwritingmuse: I admire the way you create tough short- and long-term goals for your protagonist.

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What if You Caught Some Zzzs, F. Scott Fitzgerald?

CLockforblogginThe archetypical swan-pale writer taps out chapters through the night, whiskey at hand, refusing food and slumber.  It makes you wonder how much more Fitzgerald might have done if he’d put a little bit of that creative genius into living better.  No matter how well we write when we’re feeling crappy, we write even better when we feel well.

But, when we’re looking for more writing time, it’s tempting to take our health for granted.  “I’ll go to bed later.”  “I’ll get up earlier.”  “I’ll lock myself away until it’s done.”  “No time to cook.”  “Walk? When?”  How much better to carve out writing, revising, and publishing time from what doesn’t serve us: repeated email checking, web surfing, online shopping, phone twiddling, and the rest of the close-focus time-eating opportunities offered by the brilliant network of 21st century life.

Of all the assets we bring to the reading world, a writer’s greatest strengths are personality and intellect.  Our minds shine through every word we write.  Getting exercise, particularly walking (see the the New Yorker article on thinking and walking here) improves our thinking.  Eating whole foods, including more vegetables than we ever thought possible, helps our brains operate better.  Getting a good night’s sleep lifts our moods, and helps us see what we can create, how far we can go, and how to live the writing life we desire.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel

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From @yourwritingmuse: You take five minutes to brainstorm intriguing settings. KudosYour Writing Muse.

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Designing a Writing Life

“If you don’t desigrobotgardenersmalln your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.  And guess what they’ve got planned for you?  Not much.” –Jim Rohn

Writing out goals shapes my days’ work. It shapes my days as well.  I’m always on the lookout for ways to shake up my day planning and goal setting for this writer’s life.

Last week I sat in the garden, gazing at the overgrown ivy.  I mused on authors’ careers, thinking,  All writers make something out of nothing.  Writers aren’t the only ones who do so, but it’s an exciting thought.  Pretty daring stuff.

And, within the same writing career, it’s an honourable business to work to support the creating of something new, for one’s own work, and for others’ careers as well.

A rough list for creation:  drafting chapters, outlining, goal setting, writing blogs, writing marketing plans, developing any new skill or superpower, such as bookkeeping.

For supporting creation:  typing up, revising own and others’ work, reviewing the week, polishing, marketing, publishing, bookkeeping.

Every profession claims lists like these.  As I try to fit these activities into my week, I can’t help reflecting that’s no wonder some professions come with assistants.

I hope it’s another great writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: You write intriguing dialogue. Great exchanges of power. I want to read and never stop. Kudos from your Writing Muse.

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